Delay No More
(SCMP) Councillor swears she'll outlaw foul language. By Agnes Lam and Audrey Parwani. September 13, 2006.
A district councillor has launched a crusade to outlaw foul language, saying it is a form of sexual harassment. Kong Fung-yi of Tuen Mun District Council is proposing to table a council motion for the government to outlaw the use of swear words in public referring to a person's mother or her genitalia. The council was scheduled to hold a debate on the motion yesterday, but this was delayed because of procedural issues.
Ms Kong is considering a relaunch of the motion or approaching feminist groups to seek support before tabling the proposal directly to the government. 'Initially, I want to make the use of swear words involving mothers as a form of sex discrimination. Everyone has a mother, and it is a form of sexual violence to swear against her,' she said. 'I realise many Hong Kong people have a habit of using different swear words, so it may take some time for them to adjust. Eventually, I hope we can stop using swear words in public altogether.'
Indeed, I say: "Delay no more!"
According to the Diuman Park blog, the district councillor was inspired by a public opinion poll from the Hong Kong Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood. The report on the poll results begins this way:
... "X your mother," "X your family," "no one will attend your funeral" and various traditional Chinese ways of cursing people not only attack the individuals but also their families. This is a lot more vicious than the personal attacks used in the western world.
Now the Diuman Park blogger (=Yip Yatchee 葉一知) has a different take cultural practices as well as family structure.
Actually, there is a corresponding mother-directed insult in English in the form of "MotherFxxker." As to why westerners do not want to curse the entire family, it is not because they are less wicked but because the idea of killing all branches of the family is not prevalent in western history (note: it is common for the Chinese Emperor to order the execution of entire extended families), and they don't have the notion of an entire village sharing the same family name. Due to cultural differences, there are different notions about "family." In the tribal Chinese society, "X your family" involves the cruel killing of hundreds of people. In the west, "X your family" will involve a dozen or so people in a middle-class family, and so there is not much melodrama in saying that.
As for classifying insulting someone's mother as sexual harassment, that is also peculiar. I ask everyone to pay attention that if there is a quarrel between two parties and the mother of one side is present, the other side will not dare to say "X your mother." Why not? Because they could find themselves at a serious disadvantage. What if the insulted mother said: "Great! If you have the guts, you take off your pants now and do it!" How will you respond? Obviously, the point of insulting someone's mother is not to sexually harass mom and only to insult the other party. To treat this saying as sexual harassment represents failure to understand the underlying logic.
The report also said: "When other people use 'X your mother' to refer to one's mother, one often has to take the insult unless one wants to respond to violence with violence. So what happens to mom's dignity? Who will defend mom? If one cannot use violence to respond to violence, then we ought to support the classification of sexually violent language such as 'X your mother' as crimes of sexual harassment ..."
The stranger thing is that if we have to defend mom's dignity, then what about the dignity of ourselves, our dad, our brothers, our sisters and even our country? If someone says, "X you/your dad/your sister/you motherland," then what happens to their dignity? If you have to enact a law, it ought be against insulting behavior (as a form of misconduct) and not specifically about insults against mothers. This is privileging women and discriminating against men. Aren't you embarrassed about invoking "sexual discrimination" in this discussion?
There is a bigger problem about how suppression will merely drive the saying into the underground, where it will re-emerge in another form.
"X your mother"? Everybody knows that it is not acceptable in 'polite society' in Hong Kong. But there are already any number of 'polite' ways of saying this already. Previously, I had commented on this at Headline Makes News in Hong Kong.
In Cantonese, the English phrase "Delay no more" is a well-known homonym for the local phrase "X your mother." For example, see See Lai, BWG and Waaah!. This association was not a recent obscure invention. It has been known to me as long as I can remember. If memory serves me correctly, the first time that I saw the phrase on film was in the 1982 movie Lonely Fifteen starring the wonderful Becky Lam Pik-kei who won the best actress at the second Hong Kong Film Awards (and how many of you today even know who she is?). And I had known about it for many years before then.
It is one thing to ban "X your mother." But what about banning "Delay No More." Recently, I was at the Langham Place mall and I saw a clothing/accessory boutique which featured mostly t-shirts and accessories with the words "Delay No More." Now what? Are you going to shut the shop down under the obscenity act? Are you going to ban the use of "Delay No More" too? Here is a photo from BWG:
And the point is not even about "Delay No More." The real point is that popular culture is adaptive -- no sooner do you plug up one hole then it will re-emerge in some other seemingly legitimate but thoroughly subversive form!
For another well-known homonym of "X your mother's c&&t," try "Agricultural Management Department" (=調理農務系). Try banning people from studying agricultural management! And if you want to be an expert on this subject, please proceed to 廣州話粗口研究網, which is devoted to the study of Cantonese vulgar language (note: Chapter 9.5 is dedicated to English homonyms -- did you know that "Holland bank cheque" means "being f&&king stupid"? Did you know that "Richard Billyham" is the homonym for "Suck my dick"?).
P.S. By the way, you will have to ban any discussion on fishing for eels in Hong Kong, because this is another well-known homonym for "X your mother" (釣泥鰻).